LAHORE: Unlike in the by-polls held for a National Assembly constituency in the city around a year ago, religious parties and groupings failed to make their presence felt in the July 25 general election.

Both emerging religious entities, the Khadim Rizvi-led Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Kashmir-Jihad fame Hafiz Saeed’s political front Milli Muslim League (MML), could neither field candidates to all 14 National and 30 Punjab Assembly seats in the provincial metropolis. Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA), the five-party religious alliance that ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan during 2002-07, also could not cover all the constituencies.

Interestingly, the extreme-right TLP has fielded two women candidates for NA seats though none of two – Sumera Noreen and Memona Hamid – ever appeared in the public to seek votes.

Using Khatme Nabuwat issue for its electioneering, the outfit managed to mobilize voters from certain pockets in NA-135 (Lahore-XIII), NA-125 (Lahore-III) and NA-132 (Lahore-X) but could not make any visible dent in the right vote of the PML-N.

Most of the TLP and MML presence was seen in the form of banners and flexes, as their polling camps and polling agents were seldom found in and around the polling stations.

In the NA-120 by-polls in September 2016 against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s ailing wife Begum Kulsoom, both the TLP and MML had run significant election campaigns and secured 7,000 and 5,000 votes, respectively, to the astonishment of many. But these could not maintain their tempo in the general election.

A TLP leader, who requested not to be named, admits that they’ve learnt the hard way that contesting a by-poll is much different from going into general elections. “In a by-poll, you may gather the whole country and amass all resources in a constituency but in the general vote all your workforce and resources are scattered throughout the country.”

He says that a seasoned politician from the Jamiat Ulema-i- Pakistan (JUP) had advised them to strike alliance with any major party and focusing energies on the few seats for giving a better parliamentary result but some in the main TLP leadership frowned upon the suggestion believing that they could get more through common man support on the issue of finality of prophethood.

Ghulam Mustafa, who was manning a polling camp at Minhaj University for the TLP, said that the support the outfit is getting from non-seminary people was astonishing and asserts that it would soon become a force to be reckoned with.

The MML, which could field only four candidates for 14 NA seats from Lahore, reflected even poor picture as the few camps it had set up were found empty throughout the day. It seemed voters mostly neglected the welfare work claims by the charity networks affiliated with it.

Similar was the situation of the MMA which, except for the constituencies of Liaquat Baloch (NA-130) and Manzoor Hussain Gujjar (NA-128), was not visible in the publicity match with rivals.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2018

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